The U.S. lost a record 20.5 million jobs in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dealing a serious blow to EWU students looking for short or long-term careers, post-graduation.
The job losses are more than double the 8.7 million lost during the 2009 Recession. The 14.7% unemployment rate is the worst since data started being recorded in 1948, said the BLS in a report released May 8. The April job losses alone nearly wipe out the 22.8 million jobs created in the decade since the 2009 recession.
Many of the job losses may be temporary as businesses shut down in March in response to government-mandated shelter orders. While experts predict many of the jobs will return eventually, the effects could linger long after restrictions ease and the country returns to normal.
“The focus for EWU students is that employers will delay hiring decisions until they have some idea about their business future,” -Dr. David Bunting, chair of the economics department.
Bunting cited Sweden as a country that hasn’t enacted strict shelter orders but is still dealing with a sharp economic decline. Sweden’s economy could shrink between 6.9-9.7%, according to experts. This is on par with its European neighbors that did enact lockdown procedures.
“People are fearful about the future and unwilling to commit when results are uncertain,” said Bunting.
The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic makes it hard to say for certain if or when the job market will return to pre-pandemic levels, according to Rachel Wondimu, a supervisor in the Career Center.
“Being able to accurately predict how certain industries or professions will be impacted is difficult,” said Wondimu. “The uncertainty of that requires a lot of patience.”
The leisure and hospitality industry, as well as retail businesses, were hit the hardest, losing 7.7 million and 2.1 million jobs respectively.
“A large fraction of the service jobs that EWU students take during the school year are gone,” said Bunting.
Still, career experts like Wondimu say it’s not all doom and gloom.
“Scale is important,” said Wondimu. “While you may hear information about the general downturn in a particular industry nationwide or globally, it is a much savvier approach to look at individual employers and local trends.”
The food and beverage industry was able to keep its job losses to a relatively low 42,000, in part because of its status as an essential business, but also because many restaurants and grocery stores quickly adapted their business models, saving jobs in the process.
“Many businesses have found creative ways to adapt their business models,” said Dr. Bruce Teague, founding director of the EWU Center for Entrepreneurship. “A great local example of this is The Grain Shed. They rapidly pivoted their business to take-out and delivery.”
Teague thinks that the death of jobs may be an opportunity for students with the right mind-set.
“The idea is that while this is a very difficult time for some,” said Teague, “there are also opportunities for those who see the world entrepreneurially.”
Teague added that while it may seem like an inopportune time to start a business, savvy students will be able to use this crisis as a chance to strike out on their own.
“I know that can be hard for people to see during such a challenging time,” said Teague. “That said, there are always opportunities and needs to be uncovered.”
Teague cited industries such as online-education, e-commerce and healthcare as places where the entrepreneurially-minded could make a big impact.
Wondimu also noted that there are opportunities for EWU students seeking more traditional employment, even if those opportunities are harder to find.
“We have seen trends indicating a steady need for employees in the food retail, healthcare, tech industries, data management and online learning,” said Wondimu. “Employers are also moving interviews, networking events and career fairs onto virtual platforms.”
Bunting stressed that while students may struggle to find work, this might be the ideal time to accomplish quite a bit.
“Bad times are problems for some people, and opportunities for others,” said Bunting. “I suspect spare time has significantly increased. Students need to take advantage of this situation. Students could do another course or so, finish their college a quarter or so earlier, and be better prepared for the good times when they roll again.”